Angel City Brewery is taking the farm-to-table concept to new heights with a rooftop hops garden whose harvest has yielded a unique brew only available in downtown L.A.
The craft brewery's urban garden is a work in progress, but Dieter Foerstner, Angel City's brewmaster, expects that by next fall patrons at the Angel City's public house will be able to enjoy its (copyrighted) "rooftop" brew.
"We've played around with some cask beers -- beers we've already had brewed -- and we'll pitch fresh hops into a cask, let it condition for a week or so and then turn around sell them traditional-style," says Foerstner. "By using those fresh hops you get this really beautiful, almost resinous aroma and really great hops flavor."
Some breweries use fresh hops in "harvest style," or "wet hop" beers, but those operations are generally located in rural areas, close to the source. For an urban brewery -- particularly one located in the country's second biggest city -- growing your own is unique.
"I don't know anybody else doing it, and I've been in the business 20 years," says Alan Newman, who co-founded Magic Hat Brewing Company and now oversees the brewery for parent company Boston Beer Company.
The garden wasn't all the brewery's idea. It was assembled and cultivated by Ray Narkevicius, a 63-year-old airplane mechanic who jumped at the chance to take off its hands the brewery's spent grain, which it advertised on Craigslist.
"He was the first one to respond," says Newman.
The response was serendipitous. When Narkevicius returned weeks later for more, Newman wondered, "What the hell is he doing with it?" It turned out that Narkevicius was using the hundreds of pounds of grain in compost that feeds his home garden, which covers his Silver Lake lot. After taking a tour, Newman asked him if he could grow some hops up a wall of the John A. Roebling building where Angel City is headquartered.
"Then Ray said, 'why don't we do this thing on the roof?' He took it to a whole new level," Newman says. "He's got a whole irrigation system now."
Not only did Narkevicius build the cyclical irritation system and overhead trellises to protect the vines from the wind, he created the soil from a compost of coffee grounds and coconuts. They're obtained locally, of course: The grounds come from coffee shops in Silver Lake and the coconuts from Millie's Café on Sunset. He also gets eggshells from Cafe Tropical to add additional nutrients.
"We weren't even expecting that much on the first year," Narkevicius says. "Usually they say, 'Forget about the first year. You won't get hardly anything.'"
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This year's harvest yielded two pounds of dried hops. It's a tiny fraction of what Angel City uses in the brewing cycle, sure, but it's enough for a first round.
"[The first harvest] was only three months of growth," says Narkevicius. "This was just the initial part of it."
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